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Hazlitt's Tribute

A.C. Grayling on a ceremony to remember the early 19th century essayist and literary critic.

William Hazlitt's original tomb inscription has been recarved on Lakeland granite by Lida Kindersley, to be placed over Hazlitt's grave in St Ann's Churchyard, Soho, London. It will be unveiled at 1pm on April 10th, 2003, Hazlitt's 225th birthday. Michael Foot, A.C. Grayling and Tom Paulin will speak at the unveiling, and a dedicatory poem by Andrew Motion will be read. The restoration has been mainly paid for by donations from readers of the Guardian newspaper.

At the height of his fame in the years 1814-23 William Hazlitt (1778-1830) was regarded as a fearsome political polemicist, a master of the essayist's craft, a great critic of theatre and art, and above all the 'first meta-physician of his age'. By the time of his death at the age of fifty-two in 1830 his personal reputation had declined dramatically, and throughout the Victorian period his name was hardly mentioned, either in print or conversation. But he continued to be read by the discerning, for then as since his outstanding merits as a writer and thinker retained the admiration of those best qualified to judge. Now his reputation is growing again, beyond the confines of the cognoscenti, and he is set to resume his rightful place as English literature's greatest essayist.   

What damaged Hazlitt's reputation so badly that it occluded his fame for nearly two centuries? The answer is his notorious little book the Liber Amoris, the record of his catastrophic love for a young woman called Sarah Walker. The agony of this unrequited passion not only drove him to write a book that shocked his contemporaries and disgusted his Victorian successors, but in effect it killed him too; he died a mere seven years later as a result of illness that had developed because of the event.

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